Updated: November 1, 2013, 3:41 PM ET
Power Rankings: Welcome back
By Marc Stein
Monday, Oct. 28
Here's some secret insight into the world of power-rankers:
Between the Training Camp Edition of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings and the annual installment that appears on the eve of the regular season, generally only injuries can cause a real shakeup at the top.
And that's what we have here as we await Bulls at Heat on Tuesday night to launch the 2013-14 season in earnest. Indiana has lost projected super sub Danny Granger for the first three weeks of the season to rehab a strained left calf. Deron Williams' nagging ankle woes kept him off the floor for much of Brooklyn's preseason preparations. And Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook isn't expected back before December after needing some follow-up surgery on his problematic right knee.
Those are the developments that had the greatest impact on our latest rankings batch, which naturally features the two-time reigning champs in their rightful spot at No. 1. The aforementioned health issues, meanwhile, have dropped Indy from No. 2 to No. 6, Brooklyn from No. 3 to No. 7 and OKC from No. 7 to a very uncharacteristic No. 10 since we last did this exercise in late September. Moving up behind Miami, by contrast, are the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls, who have climbed from No. 8 to No. 4 on the strength of Derrick Rose's very positive (so far) return from more than a year out after knee surgery.
Check back every Monday for the rest of the regular season for our 1-to-30 pulse take of the league, which as always is computed by your trusty committee (of one) by weighing what we're seeing in the present in equal measure with each team's big-picture outlook ... as well as dash of subjective whim.
The rankings are also compiled with the ever-helpful assisting that comes from ESPN Stats & Info and the Elias sports Bureau.
|Michael Beasley and Greg Oden flashed just enough preseason potential -- though it was just one dunk in Oden's case -- to make folks worry that the champs hit home runs with their bargain signings. Miami would have opened No. 1 anyway, but those two and a focused preseason sealed it.|
|I know all about their warts. Fears that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can't be playoff difference-makers, even under Doc Rivers, remain rampant. Yet the Clippers are my pick to win the West, largely because of what the new coach and those new shooters will do for CP3 and Blake.|
|Totally understand when people ask: How can the Spurs not be the West favorites? What, exactly, did they lose from their Finals team? Can't help it, though. Just have a nagging feeling it will be hard for them get all the way back. 2013, remember, was their first Finals appearance since 2007.|
|Derrick Rose was nearly a point-a-minute scorer in his long-awaited return to the exhibition hardwood. And Joakim Noah (groin) insists he's "100 percent" for the opener at Miami. So we'll have to concur with the Vegas oddsmakers, who always bet on D-Rose: Chicago is a top-five team again. |
|The sense I get from most well-wired observers is that the new Rockets, as well as they seem to be meshing already, aren't going to be ready to contend for a title in Year 1 of the Dwight/Harden tag team. But Jeff Van Gundy, for one, is adamant that they can. Which has us re-evaluating.|
|You don't have to be as high on the Pacers as the committee (of one), but I'm confused by the widespread doubt in their ability to sustain last season's success even though they're so much deeper now. Reminder: Indy's five playoff wins against Miami in 2012 and 2013 are tops in the LeBron era.|
|D-Will's preseason ankle woes force us to drop some early slippage on the Nets after that spectacular offseason shot them into the top three. Being as healthy as it can for the playoffs is obviously Brooklyn's priority, but that might well mean a No. 4 seed that drops right in Miami's path in Round 2.|
|Our jittery personality has us looking at the Dubs with the same wary eye old friend Ray Ratto cast when he recently wrote: "The Warriors have become such a trendy preseason pick to reach the Finals that the only logical assumption one can make from this is that they are utterly doomed."|
|Trying to show maturity in Year 12 for the committee, so there will be no lashing out at the Griz for the quick-trigger release of former Titan Josh Akognon. Here's an actual issue: Some Griz vets gave off a "coasting" vibe throughout October. Saving themselves for a long playoff run ... or relaxing a bit post-Lionel Hollins?|
|Was going to playfully dock OKC for not bringing me with 'em to Manchester for that exhibition against Philly, but this is no time to be playful. Wednesday night in Utah will mark the first time in a span of 395 regular-season games Kevin Durant takes the floor without Russell Westbrook at his side.|
|The Knicks were a November juggernaut in their first Atlantic Division title season in nearly two decades. Hard to project a repeat this fall, though, with no J.R. Smith to start the season, Amar'e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin not yet cleared for back-to-backs and Andrea Bargnani misfiring early.|
|The training camp edition of the rankings were out for maybe an hour when the Wolves lost key reserve Chase Budinger to another knee surgery. So the "When will it ever end?" talk has already begun for the injury-ravaged team sporting the league's longest playoff drought (nine seasons).|
|Amid all this tanking talk league-wide, you know who you can fully exclude from the conversation? Mark Cuban's Mavs. "Shark Tank," yes. Tanking for Andrew Wiggins? Not interested. The Mavs think they're still a playoff team and should have the elite offense (to offset a porous D) to get there. |
|I see five teams jockeying for the East's 6-7-8 seeds: Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto and Washington. And I've got the Wiz as the preseason fave from that group after the trade to acquire a healthy (scoring) center in Marcin Gortat to help backcourt dynamos John Wall and Bradley Beal.|
|The good news for the Pels and their 7-1 exhibition mark: According to NBA.com's John Schumann, 14 of the 17 teams that lost fewer than two games over the past eight full preseasons (minus 2011) made the playoffs. The bad news: Two that missed out were last season's Raptors and Sixers.|
|The West might be lacking the outright title favorites we're used to seeing, but it's as deep as ever over there. So it'll take sustained health for a change, in addition to that bolstered bench, for Portland to live up to LaMarcus Aldridge's vows to crack the conference's top eight.|
|Grantland's Zach Lowe recently introduced the list of the mere seven teams over the past 20 years to win 55-plus games and miss the playoffs one season later. With Danilo Gallinari out until December after knee surgery and all the other changes since May, Denver is definitely at risk to make it eight.|
|The Pistons project an early November debut for Brandon Jennings after his recent jaw issues. Something tells me (A) they'll still be League Pass darlings without him when they're starting a frontcourt of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and (B) they won't start 0-8 again (we think).|
|We've got two Toronto-related countdowns running. The first is the aforementioned watch ticking toward the dreamy 2016 All-Star Game at Air Canada Centre. The other is the Trade Watch: How soon before new GM Masai Ujiri follows up Bargnani's exile by trading away another vet?|
|Can't believe I'm writing these words about a team that employs Steve Nash. But it's true: The Lakers can't (and won't) be very watchable (or relevant) until Kobe Bean Bryant is back. And I fear that the target date I've always had in mind for his return -- Thanksgiving -- will have to be readjusted.|
|Suspect that I'm far more excited about Dennis Schroeder's first NBA game taking place on Dirk Nowitzki's floor -- just like Dirk debuted on Detlef Schrempf's -- than your average Hawks fan. Also suspect we'll be talking far more about Hawks trade scenarios than Hawks basketball this season.|
|You just keep waiting and waiting (and waiting) for the Cavs, like Minnesota, to find some good health. Andrew Bynum finally made it onto the practice floor over the weekend, but it was a rough first month for No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, whom we know now suffers from asthma and sleep apnea. |
|It's too soon to say whether Boogie Cousins can live up to his new max deal or whether new coach Mike Malone can really get him to plug in defensively. All we can safely predict is that Wednesday night's opener, after years of fearing the worst, will be some party Sacramento throws for its Kings.|
|All that really matters, for starters, is Al Jefferson being healthy enough to take on Dwight Howard opening night after turning his ankle two weeks ago. Because even if Big Al lives up to all expectations, Charlotte still isn't going to be competitive enough for many of its games to be labeled "marquee."|
|Brad Stevens was known in the college game as quite an analytics devotee, but he'll probably have to stifle his hunger to see the numbers as an NBA rook. It's going to be a long, ugly slog in Year 1 -- even if Rajon Rondo comes back faster than expected -- until the Celts have cap space in July.|
|You'll note that the Bucks did not make my list of five teams in the East expected to contend for the three playoff slots widely projected to be up for grabs below the Heat/Bulls/Pacers/Nets/Knicks. The same Bucks whose owner, as covered in this cyberspace last time, wants no part of tanking.|
|It's been a newsy October with Derrick Favors getting his contract extension and face of the franchise Gordon Hayward in talks to get his own before the Halloween deadline. You wonder, though: How newsy will anyone outside of Utah find the Jazz after Halloween when they're clearly rebuilding?|
|Yes, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn is still a committee fave just because his brother played at Cal State Fullerton when we were there. And, yes, there are bound to be as many trade musings about Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo in Orlando's comment space as there are Victor Oladipo ROY updates.|
|Projecting 37 wins for the Knicks was naturally the SCHOENE tout that generated the most national curiosity/scorn. But what about the SCHOENE folks saying the Suns will win fewer games than Philly and Orlando? And that was even before Phoenix traded away Marcin Gortat for another pick.|
|Worse than the nine-win Sixers of 1972-73? Worse than the seven-win Bobcats of 2011-12? Extreme as either outcome sounds, Philly's skeletal roster is such that you give it a decent shot at living all the way down to expectations, even though the bottom half of the East is filled with beatable teams.|